Posts Tagged 'ocean'

This World Oceans Day, Let’s Celebrate How Water Connects Us All

world oceans day

On June 8, organizations and communities from around the world will join to celebrate the Earth’s largest life-support system, the ocean. World Oceans Day, first celebrated in 2002, was established to help educate others on how much of an impact the ocean has on our lives and what we need to do to protect it!

Why we should celebrate the ocean, by the numbers: 

For 2.6 billion people, the ocean is their primary source of protein.

For 3 billion people, the ocean is their livelihood.

For all of us, the ocean absorbs more than 30 percent of carbon dioxide produced by humans, slowing climate change and allowing us a quality of life that, without the ocean, would not be possible (if we could survive at all).

A recent estimate suggests that there may be as many as 1 million species of non-bacterial life in the world’s waterways YET to be identified.

Though Earth is 70 percent water, an incredible 90 percent of this aquatic real estate has yet to be discovered.

While it’s great for the global community to unify this day in celebration of the ocean, here are five easy ways you can protect this vital resource every day:

  1. Reduce your energy use
    Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels can lead to ocean acidification, which is harmful to ocean life. You can help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere by riding a bike, walking or using public transportation and by turning off the lights when you leave a room.
  2. Use less plastic
    When plastic debris ends up in the ocean, animals can mistake it for food and eat it by accident, causing animals to choke or clogging their digestive systems. You can prevent this by limiting plastic use and always disposing of trash properly. Choose reusable items such as cloth grocery bags or refillable water bottles.
  3. Cut apart six-pack rings
    The plastic rings used for soda containers can pose a threat to marine life. Creatures can get caught in the rings and sometimes are unable to free themselves. You can help save these animals by cutting apart the rings before throwing them in the trash.
  4. Conserve water
    Reducing your water use can minimize wastewater runoff into the ocean, preventing chemicals and other contaminants from damaging marine habitats. You can conserve water by taking quicker showers and turning off the water when brushing your teeth.
  5. Eat sustainable seafood
    Overfishing can lead to an irreparable loss in certain seafood populations. To prevent this, avoid catching or eating certain species that have been exploited, such as bluefin tuna and Chilean seabass. Visit seafoodwatch.org for more sustainable seafood recommendations!

Maryland: Help save the sharks!

Shark populations worldwide are in danger of collapse due to fishing pressures stimulated by the global demand for shark fin soup.  Every year fins from tens of millions of sharks are used for this traditional, but non-nutritional meal.  Many species have been depleted nearly to the brink of extinction.  The National Aquarium and its partners are advocating on behalf of legislation that will help eliminate the market for shark fins in Maryland.

Current Federal and Maryland laws banning shark finning control shark handling practices but do not restrict the number of sharks killed just for their fins, or the substantial market for shark fins which creates economic incentives to overfish sharks just for their fins.  One of the most effective ways to protect sharks is to eliminate the market for fins by prohibiting their sale.  California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington have all banned the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins, and now it’s our opportunity to lead.

With our support, the Maryland State Senate has passed the bill (Senate Bill 465) that would ban the possession or distribution of shark fins in the state.  Now, it will be heard in the House of Delegates.  This legislation will establish Maryland as the first state on the east coast to join these other states in ensuring we are not contributing to the supply and demand of shark fins.

What You Can Do!
If you live in Maryland, please contact your delegates and let them know you support the “Shark Fin Ban” bill.  They need to hear from you!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Save the Sharks!

Many people think of sharks as frightening, sharp-toothed predators, far from being in need of our protection. In fact, people are more inclined to believe that we humans need protecting from these creatures. This couldn’t be farther from the truth: shark populations worldwide are in danger of collapse due to fishing pressures stimulated by the global demand for shark fin soup.

Every year, fins from tens of millions of sharks are used for this traditional, non-nutritional meal. Many species have been depleted nearly to the brink of extinction. As predators at or near the top of marine food webs, sharks help maintain the balance of marine life in our oceans.

Shark populations must be protected from the practice of overfishing. The National Aquarium and its partners, including the National Wildlife Federation and Oceana, are advocating on behalf of legislation that will close loopholes in current legislation that bans shark finning. We welcome your support!

Why Sharks Need Our Help

Unlike many fish species, sharks are slow to mature and have very few offspring, making them vulnerable to overexploitation. The sandbar and sand tiger sharks are two species in our mid-Atlantic waters that have faced great fishing pressure. 

Sandbar shark

Sandbar Shark at the National Aquarium


The sandbar shark, which utilizes Delaware Bay as a pupping ground, can take up to 14 years to mature, has a gestation of 11–12 months, and gives birth to 6–10 pups. The females breed only every other year. These young sandbar sharks are closely tied to the health of the marine ecosystem.

Research shows that the massive depletion of sharks has cascading effects throughout the ocean’s ecosystems. In Maryland, the depletion of sharks has caused an increase in cownose rays in the Chesapeake Bay, which threaten the oyster industry.

In the 30 years the National Aquarium, Baltimore, has been open, sharks have gone from a commercial fishery the federal government declared underutilized to the brink of extinction. In that time, hammerhead shark populations in the Atlantic have decreased by nearly 93%. Since 1986, all recorded shark populations in the northwestern Atlantic, with the exception of mako sharks, have declined by more than 50%.

Scientists warn that continual overfishing of sharks has decimated the population, which continues to dwindle and cannot sustain the current rates. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species estimates that 30% of open ocean sharks are threatened with extinction.

What We Can Do

Recently, the National Aquarium took a stand to support the 2010 Shark Conservation Act, but we need to do more. Current federal and Maryland laws banning shark finning control shark handling practices, but do not restrict the number of sharks killed just for their fins, or the substantial market for shark fins that creates economic incentives to overfish sharks for their fins.

One of the most effective ways to protect sharks is to eliminate the market for fins by prohibiting their sale. California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington have all banned the possession, sale, trade, and distribution of shark fins, and now it’s our opportunity to lead.

With our support, the Maryland Legislature has introduced bills (Senate Bill 465 and House Bill 393) that would ban the possession or distribution of shark fins in the state. This legislation will establish Maryland as the first state on the East Coast ensuring we are not contributing to the supply and demand of shark fins.

The National Aquarium’s shark expert, Andy Dehart, will be testifying at both hearings in February, and the Aquarium’s Director of Conservation Laura Bankey and Director of Government Affairs Mark Yost are working closely with our partners to support the legislation as it moves through legislative channels.

What You Can Do

Let your state representatives know you care about sharks, and all the species in the marine ecosystem that depend on them! Our partners at Oceana have initiated an online advocacy campaign to support the shark fin ban in Maryland. Sign our letter today, and help save the sharks!

Going on midnight turtle patrol in Costa Rica

From Laura Bankey, Director of Conservation

I’m back in the United States after an amazing trip to Costa Rica. Our last group adventure took us to Manuel Antonio National Park. Relatively speaking, the area around this National Park is pretty developed, and many Costa Ricans come here for the beaches. It has had some problems in the past from pollution from the nearby towns contaminating the streams and development cutting off access for the animals. It has gotten much better, but it will only stay that way if people continue to be diligent.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park

The park has several trails that cut through the forest and end up on the beaches of the Pacific. Along the way, our group saw amazing insects like golden orb spiders, baby tarantulas, walking sticks, and huge grasshoppers. We also saw howler monkeys, crab-eating raccoons, white-tailed deer, two- and three-toed sloths, a yellow-crowned night heron, tree boa, and many black iguanas. The monkeys and raccoons have learned to steal food from the tourists on the beach, similar to the way raccoons take food from campers in our parks! If you want the comfort of an accessible park with nearby conveniences, all the while providing spectacular views and glimpses of local wildlife, this park is for you.

Bats, Howler Monkey, Heron

Lesser white lines bats, howler monkey, and yellow-crowned night heron

On Saturday I left the rest of the group at the airport and met up with one of our conservation partners for a trip to the Caribbean. Didiher Chacon, director of WIDECAST (Wider  Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network) Latin America, drove us to one of his sea turtle nesting beaches just south of Tortuguerro National Park.

This project is being run by the wonderful people of La Tortuga Feliz foundation, and Didiher has been their adviser for the past couple of years. Like many turtle conservation projects in Costa Rica, it is run by just a few staff members and relies on volunteers to do much of the work. The good ones, like this one, also actively seek support from the local community. In this case, the community employs local guides for turtle walks!

We got to the site in the late afternoon after a short boat ride from the nearest town. The staff and volunteers were all amazing, several of them deciding to stay long term after falling in love with the place and the project during their three-week volunteer stint.

Within the hour, we had discovered that one of the leatherback sea turtle nests in the hatchery was erupting and baby turtles were emerging. We helped gather them up for weights and measurements and placed them in a container for a later release. We did not want to release them in the middle of the day when the black sand was too hot and predators could easily spot them. At dusk, we went back down to the hatchery to let them go. It was a truly wonderful experience. I have participated in several nesting events, but never before witnessed this part of the process. What a sight!

After the release, I gave a presentation to the local community and project staff and volunteers on the National Aquarium’s work with sea turtles. There was no electricity at the site, so we hooked the computer and projector up to a generator for the presentation. Since there are very few sea turtle nests in our area, I mostly spoke about the work our Marine Animal Rescue Program does with rescue, rehabilitation, and release of our local species. I talked about the care our patients receive by our veterinary staff and the technologies we use for diagnosis. I talked about the time and effort our MARP staff and volunteers put in to the care of each animal and the joy of watching them be released back into their natural environment. It was easy to connect with my audience (even through the translator) because it was obvious that we were all participating in different but equally important aspects of the conservation of these amazing animals.

At midnight I joined a turtle patrol. Each night during the nesting season, local guides and project volunteers walk the beach to look for nesting turtles. In this region, it’s important to relocate all nests to the hatchery because poaching and turtle hunting is still prevalent, even though it is illegal in Costa Rica. While walking the beach, we saw a group of civil police on patrol. They were there to catch poachers. Later on, we heard that they confronted nine poachers that night and had confiscated a machete, sacks, and other poaching equipment. At first, I was comforted by the police presence on the beach, but Didiher informed me that in his two years on this project, this was only the second time he’s seen them and that they don’t have the resources to patrol regularly. In fact, their presence that evening was only made possible because La Tortuga Feliz paid for the gas for their boat.

The locals I spoke with that evening were passionate about saving these animals, but were disheartened by the continued disregard for the laws, and the inability of local law enforcement to enforce the laws. They are working very hard in their outreach efforts, for both local communities and in national campaigns, to emphasize the importance of protecting sea turtles, but as with all movements, this will take time. In the meantime, groups like WIDECAST, La Tortuga Feliz, and, most importantly, the local citizens that are working with them are providing a necessary foundation for the conservation of these species.


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